Two decades later, pastor charged with sexual assault of boy in Evanston hotel
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A former Catholic priest with Chicago ties is facing criminal charges for the first time, nearly two decades after he resigned from his post amid several allegations of child sex abuse.
The case that eventually landed 56-year-old Kenneth Lewis in the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Saturday in Chicago stems from a decade-old allegation of child molestation in an Evanston hotel room, according to a police source in the northern suburb.
In that incident, “Father Ken,” a former pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy on a trip in late July 2001, in a hotel at 1501 Sherman Ave., the Evanston police source told the Chicago Sun-Times. The hotel at that address is now the Holiday Inn Chicago North.
The boy’s parents filed a report with Tulsa police in June 2004, nearly three years after the alleged assault. Authorities in Oklahoma referred the case to Evanston police, and now, 14 years later, Lewis has been criminally charged in the case.
Evanston authorities submitted a felony charge in December 2017 to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Two days after Christmas, Cook County Judge Michael J. Hood issued a nationwide $100,000 warrant for Lewis’ arrest, court records show.
Though the former Tulsa pastor’s permanent address has been in Arvada, Colorado, for the past three years, Lewis wasn’t in the country until his arrest this month. From early July 2017 until May 8, Lewis was living in Ecuador, according to Cook County prosecutors. Lewis has been in the United States for less than 100 days since January 2017, prosecutors said. It’s not clear why he was living for nearly a year and a half in the South American country.
In late March, U.S. officials were flagged when Lewis purchased a plane ticket from Ecuador to Atlanta, Georgia, according to the Evanston police source. When Lewis arrived in Atlanta on May 9, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security detained him, and he was brought back to the Chicago area nine days later.
On Friday morning, Lewis was taken into Evanston police custody and charged with one felony count of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, the police source said.
At Lewis’ initial court appearance on Saturday in front of Associate Judge Sophia Atcherson, a Cook County prosecutor’s attempt to read the details of two additional charges of criminal sexual abuse with the same alleged victim was denied because the charges weren’t filed in time for the hearing.
Atcherson executed the $100,000 warrant and ordered Lewis to turn over his passport and stay in Illinois for the remainder of the case. She also ordered him to have no contact with the alleged victim or his family, and not to have any contact with any minors. A prosector’s request to have Lewis placed on house arrest was denied.
A state’s attorney’s office spokeswoman said the new sexual abuse charges are expected to be filed this week in court. Lewis is scheduled to appear on Wednesday at the Second Municipal District Courthouse in Skokie.
Since the Saturday hearing, Lewis’ family posted the $10,000 bond required for his release, according to his private attorney Stephen M. Komie.
Komie said Lewis’ family retained his services while Lewis was in custody in Evanston.
Lewis, who attended the St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary in north suburban Mundelein between 1987 and 1991, has faced an extensive history of sexual abuse allegations.
In 1994, Bishop Edward Slattery of the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa sent Lewis to treatment after he was made aware of several accusations stemming from the early 1990s, according to news reports at the time.
Authorities had investigated those claims, but they said they could not file charges because the statute of limitations in the cases had expired. As many as six victims had come forward with complaints against Lewis.
After Lewis finished treatment, Slattery allowed the pastor to return to active ministry in 1995 with an order not to spend time alone with children. Lewis served as an associate pastor at a number of Oklahoma churches before he was appointed pastor of St. John’s Catholic Church in McAlester, Oklahoma.
In 2002, Lewis resigned from his position after diocese officials renewed investigations into claims that he improperly touched young boys in 1993 and 1994. In 2007, Lewis became the first pastor in the Tulsa Diocese to become laicized, or disallowed from further work as an ordained minister.
The same year, the parents of an alleged abuse victim filed a civil lawsuit in Chicago, accusing Lewis of molesting their son in 2001 at an Evanston hotel.
The case, filed anonymously under the names John Doe, Father Doe and Mother Doe, named Lewis, Slattery and the Tulsa Diocese as defendants.
After the accusations against Lewis were made public, Slattery still allowed Lewis to travel with the boy and his parents, who had flown to Chicago to look at potential colleges for their daughter, according to the Midwest director at the time of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Court records show the lawsuit was withdrawn in July 2009, though it isn’t clear whether the two parties had agreed to a settlement.
The attorney who represented the family in that case did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday. While details in the lawsuit were similar to the case in which Lewis is now charged, it was not clear whether the allegations in the suit stemmed from the same incident.
Though Lewis attended the seminary in suburban Chicago, a Chicago Archdiocese spokeswoman said at the time of the lawsuit that Lewis was never assigned in Chicago.
Komie, Lewis’ attorney, said Lewis denies the “historical” allegations and that his family is “absolutely behind” him. Lewis, who has not yet been arraigned or indicted, is expecting to enter a not guilty plea, Komie said.